LANGUAGE AND THE QUEST FOR IDENTITY: A STUDY OF CHINUA ACHEBE’S THINGS FALL APART AND CHIMAMANDA ADICHIE’S AMERICANAH
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Language is an indispensable characteristic of every human society. The language one speaks tells much about one’s identity with regards to where the person comes from. In every society individuals and groups of persons would like to be differentiated from others, and in that effect, identity comes to play. In this study, the researcher has been able to explore the identity of Achebe in his Things Fall Apart and Adichie in her Americanah have been able to create for themselves through their texts. The study uses Contrastive Hypotheses Theory and the Identity and Difference Theory as guides. At the end of the research, it is discovered that Achebe and Adichie have been able to use language as a quest for identity in their texts Things Fall Apart and Americanah; the study also points out the kind of identity that the use of language in Things Fall Apart and Americanah have created about Achebe and Adichie, and as well shows the relevance of the use of language as a quest for identity in Things Fall Apart and Americanah to literature.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Title Page ————————————————————————————————- i
Dedication ———————————————————————————————— ii
Approval Page/ Certification ————————————————————————— iii
Acknowledgements ————————————————————————————– iv
Table of Contents —————————————————————————————– v
Abstract ————————————————————————————————— viii
CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION
1.1 Background of the Study —————————————————————————– 1
1.2 Brief Summary of Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe —————————————- 5
1.3 Summary of Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie ————————————- 7
1.4 Statement of Problem ——————————————————————————— 8
1.5 Purpose of the Study ———————————————————————————- 9
1.6 Significance of the Study —————————————————————————– 10
1.7 Scope and Limitation of Study ———————————————————————– 10
CHAPTER TWO: REVIEW OF RELATED LITERATURE
2.0 Introduction ——————————————————————————————– 11
2.1 Conceptual Framework ——————————————————————————- 11
2.2 Language ———————————————————————————————— 11
2.3 Identity ————————————————————————————————– 15
2.4 Language as a Determiner of Identity ————————————————————– 17
2.5 Studies on Achebe’s Use of Language in Things Fall Apart ———————————— 19
2.6 Studies on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Use of Language ———————————— 29
2.7 Summary of Literature Review ———————————————————————- 34
CHAPTER THREE: RESEARCH METHODOLOGY AND THEORETICAL
3.0 Introduction ——————————————————————————————— 35
3.1 Research Design ————————————————————————————— 36
3.2 Data Collection Method —————————————————————————— 36
3.3 Method of Data Analysis —————————————————————————– 37
3.4 Theoretical Framework ——————————————————————————- 37
3.4.1 Theory of Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis —————————————————– 37
3.4.2 Identity and Difference —————————————————————————– 38
Summary ——————————————————————————————- 39
CHAPTER FOUR: PRESENTATION AND ANALYSIS OF FINDINGS
4.0 Language and Identity in Things Fall Apart and Americanah ——————————— 40
4.1 Language ———————————————————————————————— 40
4.2 Identity ————————————————————————————————– 43
4.4 Characters in Igbo Nomenclature ——————————————————————- 43
4.5 Racism ————————————————————————————————— 43
4.6 Eurocentrism ——————————————————————————————- 46
4.7 Migration ———————————————————————————————— 49
4.8 Feminism ———————————————————————————————— 51
4.9 Tradition ———————————————————————————————— 53
4.10 Proverbs ———————————————————————————————– 54
Conclusion ————————————————————————————————– 57
CHAPTER FIVE: SUMMARY OF FINDINGS, RECOMMENDATIONS AND
5.0 Introduction ——————————————————————————————– 58
5.1 Summary ———————————————————————————————— 58
5.2 Recommendations ————————————————————————————- 58
5.3 Conclusion ——————————————————————————————— 59
Works Cited ———————————————————————————————— 60
1.1 Background to the Study
Language is as old as man; it is the most important aspect of any living society. Of all the gifts God has given to human beings, none is as unique as language. The language we speak tells exactly where a particular person comes from.
It is in this realization that Ngonebu (1) states that, “language is one of the most significant features of human kind. There is nothing human beings can do without the function of one form of language or the other. The fact that human being exists and lives together depends purely on the existence of language.” Ngonebu had rightly observed that language is very crucial to human existence. It is very important to note here that if language is removed from any society, such society is no longer alive. If one has language, one has all things because it is the determiner of happiness or sadness of someone.
In a related development, Roland (1) sees language as “the fundamental ethnic characteristics of the individual and the ‘glue’ that binds individuals together into ethnic groups.” To still stress the uniqueness of language, Whorf, (443-464) posits that we dissect nature along lines laid down by our native language. We cut nature up, organize it into concepts, and ascribe significances as we do, largely because we are parties to an agreement to organize it in this way – an agreement that holds throughout our speech community and is c odified in the patterns of our language. This clarify that language enables us to talk with one another. It equally enhances us to make comment about something; it provides us with the mode of interaction as well as a capacity of representation. It must be noted that language can affect a society by influencing or even controlling the world view of its speakers.
Catford quoted in Yusuf (7) sees language as patterned human behaviour, it is a way; perhaps the most important way, in which human beings interact in social situations. Language behaviour is externalize or manifest in some kind of bodily activity on the part of the speaker when he produces vocal symbols or write when he writes.
In a similar way, Akindele Adegbite asserted that, “human language is unique in the sense that it has its own system of organising its component into meaningful patterns. In other words, there are rules governing the organisation of sentences such as rules of tense and concord. These are also the rules for organizing discourse.”
It must be noted that the essence of human existence is the language. The presence of language is just like the air we breathe. If it is taken away, it means that the person would cease to be alive. At this juncture, it is very crucial to note how language and identity are related.
Identify from a lay or common man’s point of view refers to the way in which one could be recognized. For instance, the colour like black could be used to identify Africans; the way one speaks is another way through which one’s background could be identified.
The Encarta Dictionary (37) describes identity as “essential self: the set of characteristics that somebody recognizes as belonging uniquely to himself or herself and constituting his or her individual personality for life.” A person’s identity is understood via the many factors from the environment which he or she comes from. Factor of identity can be the place where one grew up, the career one undertakes the way one looks, and definitely the language which one speaks.
To this effect, May (129) asserts that language is not the most crucial factor to either ethnic or national identity, but, it is intrinsically valuable; though, it is not a primordial, it strongly relates to the development of identity. Identity could be the development of the distinct personality of an individual regarded as a persisting entity in a particular stage of life in which individuals characteristics are possessed and by which a person is recognized or known such as the establishment of a reputation.
In a similar regard, Parker (28) argues that identity is an ever evolving core within where our genetic (biology), culture, loved ones, those we care for, people who have harmed us and people we have harmed, the deeds done (good and ill) to self and others, experiences lived, and choices made to come together to form who we are at this moment.
Identity is what differentiates one individual from another. Self identity is the sum total of a being’s knowledge and understanding of oneself. The components of the identity concept include physical, psychological, and social attributes which can be influenced by the individual’s attitude, habits, beliefs and ideas. Identity may come in diverse forms but the most important thing to be known about identity is that it is used for differentiation among individuals or group of persons or things.
The use of language alone by a person or group of person is a strong paradigm for identification of individuals or groups. Language is therefore said to be one of the major determinants of identity. Quest for identity as a concept refers to a search for recognition. It is in this development that Kwasi (2) opines that quest for identity is a move by individuals, nation, continent, etc. when they are not placed in a position where they ought to be. However, it is when something goes wrong that critical self-analysis tend to begin. It’s not everything that goes wrong with a people precipitates crisis of self identity; it is only the kind of reverse that injures human dignity and saps self-confidence that causes the type of soul searching. In Africa colonialism has been such an adversity.
Quest for identity is one of the most crucial aspects of every individual or society to the development of any society. It refers mainly to taking into account the greatest difference which separate people, as well stating these difference in order to be acknowledged and respected by the others. One most crucial important thing about identity is that, it tries to show what one have in common with others as well as to show what makes one specially different or uncommon from the other (Jeffery 4).
The quest towards finding an identity and fully understanding who you are as a person is never an easy journey, and the society have the way of complicating this even more. Take for example, if a land belongs to the entire family and one day, the eldest in the kindred started sharing it to the rest members of the family but refused to apportion to one of the family member, such marginalization or omission shall definitely arouse a negative feelings in the person and as a result prompt the person to search for his or her true identity whether he or she is a legitimate family member or not. The loss of identity and the quest for it has been the pervasive theme in contemporary African literature. Though, the problem of the quest for identity was very much there even in the 19th century, or even much before, the contemporary writers seem to work out new equations.
Identity is co-related with status, sex, age, family, profession, nationality and so on. The European phenomenologists like Heidegger and Gabriel Marcel maintain that, the problem of identity is to define one’s connection between one’s inward experience and the strange compulsive meaningless duty, merely to maintain existence in the community of material needs. In other words, man must define himself in terms of a community of selves. At the level of individual within a social context, ethnic identity may contribute to both in-group bonds and hostility toward other groups (Jones 34).
However, quest for identity is a common phenomenon in our societies today. Nigeria is not an exception. We find women searching for their true identity in the Nigerian politics, workers searching for promotion, students searching for better results at graduation, several unions such as ASUU, NUT, NUJ, etc. seeking recognition, etc. all these and others promote the quest for identity.
1.2 Brief Summary of Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Things Fall Apart, a novel set in the pre-colonial Nigeria in the 1890s, highlights thefight between colonialism and traditional societies. Okonkwo (the protagonist) is famous in the six surrounding villages for being a wrestling champion, defeating a wrestler nick-named ‘the cat’ (because he never lands on his back). He is strong, hard-working, and strives to show no weakness. Okonkwo wants to dispel his father Unoka’s tainted legacy of being effeminate (he borrowed and lost money, and neglected his wife and children) and cowardly (he feared the sight of blood). Okonkwo works to build his wealth entirely on his own, as Unoka died a shameful death and left many unpaid debts. He is also obsessed with his masculinity, and any slight compromise on this masculinity is swiftly destroyed. As a result, he is brusque with his three wives, children, and neighbours, he is wealthy, courageous, and powerful among the people of his village. He is a leader of his village, and he has attained a position in his society for which he has striven all his life.
Okonkwo is selected by the elders to be the guardian of Ikemefuna, a boy taken by the village as a peace settlement between Umuofia and another village after Ikemefuna’s father killed an Umuofian woman. The boy lives with Okonkwo’s family and Okonkwo grows fond of him. The boy looks up to Okonkwo and considers him a second father. The Oracle of Umuofia eventually pronounces that the boy must be killed. Ezeudu, the oldest man in the village, warns Okonkwo that he should have nothing to do with the murder because it would be like killing his own child. But to avoid seeming weak and feminine to the other men of the village, Okonkwo participates in the murder of the boy despite the warning from the old man. In fact, Okonkwo himself strikes the killing blow even as Ikemefuna begs his “father” for protection. For many days after killing Ikemefuna, Okonkwo feels guilty and saddened.
Shortly after Ikemefuna’s death, things begin to go wrong for Okonkwo. During a gun salute at Ezeudu’s funeral, Okonkwo’s gun explodes and kills Ezeudu’s son. He and his family are sent into exile for seven years to appease the gods he has offended. While Okonkwo is away in Mbanta, he learns that white men are living in Umuofia with the intent of introducing their religion, Christianity. As the number of converts increases, the foothold of the white people grows and a new government is introduced. The village is forced to respond with either appeasement or resistance to the imposition of the white people’s nascent society.
Returning from exile, Okonkwo finds his village changed by the presence of the white men. He and other leaders try to reclaim their hold on their native land by destroying a local Christian church. In return, the leader of the white government takes them prisoner and holds them for a ransom two hundred cowries for a short while, further humiliating and insulting the native leaders, doing things such as shaving their heads and whipping them. As a result, the people of Umuofia finally gather for what could be a great uprising. Okonkwo, a warrior by nature and adamant about following Umuofian custom and tradition, despises any form of cowardice and advocates war against the white men. When messengers of the white government try to stop the meeting, Okonkwo kills one of them. He realizes with despair that the people of Umuofia are not going to fight to protect themselves — his society’s response to such a conflict, which for so long had been predictable and dictated by tradition, is changing.
When the local leader of the white government comes to Okonkwo’s house to take him to court, he finds that Okonkwo has hanged himself to avoid being tried in a colonial court. Among his own people, Okonkwo’s actions have ruined his reputation and status, as it is strictly against the teachings of the Igbo to commit suicide.
1.3 Summary of Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
On the surface, Americanah is a riveting love story between high school sweethearts Ifemelu and Obinze that starts in Lagos during a time of military dictatorship. With Obinze, Ifemelu was “at ease; her skin felt as though it was her right size.” The two are separated when Ifemelu moves to America amidst ongoing university strikes in Nigeria. In America, Ifemelu becomes aware of race, falls in love with her natural hair, explores an interracial relationship and becomes a prominent blogger. Obinze, on the other hand, moves to England where he battles loneliness and struggles to make a living working under the table jobs after overstaying his visa: he lived in London indeed but invisibly, his existence like an erased pencil sketch.” Eventually, the two reunite in Lagos, where Obinze has become a ‘big boy’ and Ifemelu is struggling to carve a new career after being away from home for thirteen (13) years. In the end, Ifemelu and Obinze must make a very difficult decision. But Americanah is more than a love story: it is a social critique and a dissection of the politics of identity.
Years later, Obinze is a wealthy man in a newly democratic Nigeria, while Ifemelu has achieved success as a writer of an eye-opening blog about race in America. But when Ifemelu returns to Nigeria, and she and Obinze reignite their shared passion—for their homeland and for each other—they will face the toughest decisions of their lives.
Fearless, gripping, at once darkly funny and tender, spanning three continents and numerous lives, Americanah is a richly told story set in today’s globalized world: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s most powerful and astonishing novel Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian writer. She is Igbo, one of the largest and most influential ethnic groups in Nigeria. Adichie has been called “the most prominent” of a “procession of critically acclaimed young Anglophone authors that have succeeded in attracting a new generation of readers to African literature.
1.4 Statement of Problem
Language is a powerful tool for interaction among people with same or different ethnic backgrounds. The importance of language to human beings can never be ignored, it is believed among Africans that it is from one’s speech or language that one is identified. According to Achebe (78) says, a language is a weapon and one uses it, there is no point fighting it. Language is an integral part of every society including Africa as it is the source of peace as well as trouble in the continent and beyond. The quest for identity comes in different ways. However, many people in the world today have been able to create different identity for themselves such as the type of clothes they put on, the type of people they associate with, the class of cars they drive, etc. Language is the signature of an individual in the society; it is very important to note that every writer or novelist is poised to create a particular impression in the minds of one’s readers; since novels tell more about the novelist perceptions about a particular thing, Achebe and Adichie may have different identities about a particular thing. It is in this realization that this study is out to:
- investigate how Achebe and Adichie have been able to use language as a quest for identity in their texts Things Fall Apart and Americanah;
- find out the kind of identity that the use of language in Things Fall Apart and Americanah have created about Achebe and Adichie, and
- to also find out, of what relevance is the use of language as a quest for identity in
Things Fall Apart and Americanah to Literature
1.5 Purpose of the Study
If language is spoken by two different persons within the same writing community, then, there are always different ways they use the language to create identity.
Therefore, this study is designed to identify how the use of language has created different quest for identities for both Achebe and Adichie, as well, find out their implications to the development of the African literature at large.
1.6 Significance of the Study
The researcher is very optimistic that the findings of this study will be of paramount importance to students, teachers, and the reading public of the relevance of language in creating quest for identity about the different writers and the societies they depict. It will as well add to more literatures on language and identity that may be explored in future.
1.7 Scope and Limitation of Study
Due to the time frame of this programme and other constraints, the researcher wants to limit this work to the use of language by Achebe and Adichie to achieve identity in their Things Fall Apart and Americanah respectively.
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